When I arrived in the summer of 2012, Eric Shoemaker had been serving in Southern Maryland for nine years, the sole deacon deployed in the Episocpal Diocese of Washington. A month later, I attended the first ordination of deacons at Washington National Cathedral. Eric and I had three new colleagues, Ty Jones, Terri Murphy, and Susan Walker. Today, the diocese has 29 deacons serving in 30 congregations, spread throughout all eight regions.
Bishop Mariann called for the Commission on Ministry to explore adopting a more intentional approach to the formation and deployment of deacons in the Diocese of Washington. The group that created the discernment and formation programs for the diaconate researched the best practices of other dioceses. Two pieces we incorporated into our program that came out of this study are 1) the expectation that those participating in the deacon formation process will complete two internships, one in a social service agency and the other in one of our congregations; and 2) when students do their parish internships, they are supervised by deacons. Going a step further, our group decided that students would undertake their social service placements in areas where they had no prior experience and in parishes very different from their sponsoring parishes, because we wanted these to be situations which would expand their understanding of ministry. At first it was difficult to place everyone in parishes with deacons, as we had so few. Now we have options.
Two great things have come from these early decisions. First, our community of deacons has both an ever-expanding experience with social service agencies in the diocese and good working relationships with the leadership of these programs. And second, the use of deacons teaching our deacons-to-be is developing strong working relationships between deacons and the congregations they serve. When our students are ordained, they have had nine months of learning in another parish and with another deacon — deepening relationships, ministry awareness, and collaborative possibilities.
Our deacons are now in ongoing and lively communication with each other, sharing resources and dreaming of new ways to connect community programs with our congregations and our congregations to the needs and concerns of the world. Two areas currently bringing deacons together in collaborative ministry are the diocesan Afghan Refugee Response Team, gathering and developing responses to meet the needs of Afghan refugees, and the Prison Ministry Task Force, mobilizing efforts to assist with the reentry needs of returning citizens.
The possibilities for diaconal ministry in the Diocese of Washington are endless — and it is exciting to imagine what is still to come from deacons and congregations that will further our witness of God’s love extended to the world.
The Ven. L. Sue von Rautenkranz
Archdeacon, Episcopal Diocese of Washington